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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 September 2007, 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK
Q&A: Pounds, pints and the EU
The European Commission has tired of waiting for the UK to give up imperial measurements, and now says it can use some of them for as long it wants.

The pound and the ounce can continue to be used alongside the kilogram and gram, in markets and delicatessens, for an indefinite period.

Which non-metric measurements can still legally be used in the UK?

The pound and the ounce can be used alongside kilogram and gram measurements for goods sold loose. The pint can be used for draught beer and cider, and milk sold in returnable bottles. Miles can be used in traffic signs and speed indications, and the troy ounce can be used for transactions in precious metals.

Up to now, it has been permitted to use the acre for land registration, but in practice it is no longer used, and will be repealed.

Which non-metric measurements have already been phased out?

In 2000 it became illegal to use only pounds and ounces when selling goods in bulk, without any conversion into kilograms and grams.

SOME OLD MEASUREMENTS
Dram or drachm: one sixteenth of an ounce
Scruple: one twenty-fourth of an ounce
Minim: one four hundred and eightieth of an ounce
Chaldron: 36 bushels
Perch or rod or pole: 5.5 yards
Cran: 37.5 gallons
Furlong: one eighth of a mile

Therms and fathoms were phased out in the 1990s, and metric units became compulsory for pre-packed goods in 1995.

Going further back, the British thermal unit (Btu), the cran, the furlong, the horsepower, the hundredweight, the ton, and the degree Fahrenheit were dropped in 1980.

And the Weights and Measures Act of 1963 abolished a set of measures that only historians would now recognise, including the drachm, scruple, minim, chaldron, quarter, rod, pole and perch.

British schools have taught pupils in metric units since the 1970s.

When did the UK decide to go metric?

In 1965 the Board of Trade proposed adopting the metric system within 10 years, because industry was very keen, and a Metrication Board was set up three years later. A White Paper in 1972 suggested gradual change. The following year, the UK joined the EU and reaffirmed its commitment to go metric.

Why has the EU encouraged member states to use metric units?

To facilitate trade. If all members of the union use the same units, it makes it easier to buy and sell goods.

Has it hurried the UK to make the changes?

It has certainly reminded the UK of its legal commitment from time to time. On the other hand, it has repeatedly extended deadlines for full metrication.

People in the UK and indeed throughout the EU love the traditions that make Britain unique
Trade commissioner Guenter Verheugen

Why has the Commission now changed tack?

It has decided, after a period of public consultation earlier this year, that the few existing exceptions do not obstruct European trade.

Do any other countries still use non-metric units?

Ireland still uses some old-style units, such as the pint for beer. However, it metricated its road traffic signs, distance and speed measurement in January 2005.

Does the European Commission have the power to take this decision by itself?

No. All 27 member states and the European Parliament must agree. But Trade Commissioner Guenter Verheugen says he does not foresee any problems getting their approval.

Why has Britain been reluctant to change?

It's a cultural thing. As Mr Verheugen says: "People in the UK, and indeed throughout the EU, love the traditions that make Britain unique."

But another factor is that 500g is more than a pound, a litre is more than a pint, and a square metre is more than a square yard... Metrication tends to make prices look as though they are rising.


SEE ALSO
Guide to the best euromyths
23 Mar 07 |  Europe
Will we ever go completely metric?
02 Sep 04 |  Magazine
Head-to-Head: Metrication
05 Sep 04 |  UK



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